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White House has been ‘limiting who can listen and access President Trump’s phone calls’

White House officials have taken it upon themselves to tightly restrict who can access records of presidential phone calls that President Trump makes to world leaders.

The restrictions over who can access and listen to such calls have been in place for more than a year after the administration suffered a number of embarrassing leaks during calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

The concern was so great at one point, that it led to the development of a ‘secret server’ to which few would have access to, in order to store Trump’s most sensitive of communications. 

Extraordinary efforts have been taken by Trump’s aides to strictly limit the number of people with access to his conversations with foreign leaders

An unidentified whistleblower revealed concern among White House officials over alleged attempts by the administration to 'lock down' access to internal information including the president's July 2019 discussion with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, pictured left

An unidentified whistleblower revealed concern among White House officials over alleged attempts by the administration to ‘lock down’ access to internal information including the president’s July 2019 discussion with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, pictured left

According to the Wall Street Journal, the server has been used to record calls with the leaders  of Saudi Arabia, Russia and Ukraine, but White House officials have also significantly reduced the number of individuals who can listen in the calls, or who could access the records once the calls were over.

Leaked phone calls involving Mexico’s new President Enrique Peña Nieto  and Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2017 were seen as extremely damaging by the administration.

In the call with Mexico, Trump warned that he might send U.S. troops to take on the ‘tough hombres’ driving the Mexican drug trade.

When speaking with Australia, he lashed out at Turnbull when speaking about a ‘stupid,’ ‘disgusting’ and ‘horrible’ Obama-era refugee deal in which the U.S. agreed to take up to 1,250 refugees housed in detention camps on the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. 

White House officials seek to tightly restrict access to Trump's comments. Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, right, can be seen.He has since been replaced three times

White House officials seek to tightly restrict access to Trump’s comments. Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, right, can be seen.He has since been replaced three times

Soon after, during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump denounced the New START treaty that limits U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the U.S. – once again the conversation was leaked to the media.

In May 2017, Trump met in the White House Oval Office with Russian officials including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

Trump shared details about U.S. efforts to counter the Islamic State extremist group with the Russians. The details were supposed to be classified at the time – but word got out, leading to further restrictions being imposed. 

‘If true, the reports that President Trump may have told close associates of Putin that he didn’t mind Russian interference in the US elections are extremely harmful to both our national security and the integrity of our elections,’ Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement released Saturday. ‘It’s one of the most disturbing things we’ve learned yet.’ 

In a phone call Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman no access to a rough transcript of the conversation was ever given to people who would normally have received one

In a phone call Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman no access to a rough transcript of the conversation was ever given to people who would normally have received one

President Donald Trump speaks on the telephone via speakerphone with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in the Oval Office

President Donald Trump speaks on the telephone via speakerphone with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in the Oval Office

According to CNN in a phone call with the Saudi leader Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, no access to a rough transcript of the conversation was ever given to people who would normally have been expected to received one.

The call, in which no particularly sensitive information was discussed, came soon after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which U.S. intelligence believe was carried out by the Saudi government.

No transcript was ever circulated at all to prevent leaks. Such a move is highly unusual, particularly after such a high-profile conversation.

In a conversation with Putin, access to the transcript of at least one of Trump’s conversations was again tightly restricted. 

Such attempts to conceal information about Trump’s discussions with bin Salman and Putin show the lengths Trump aides will go to in order to limit the number of people able access his conversations with foreign leaders. 

Last week, an unidentified whistleblower revealed concern among White House officials over alleged attempts by the administration to ‘lock down’ access to internal information including the president’s July 2019 discussion with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The call alleges that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.

After the call was over, officials concealed records of the communication by storing it in the national security computer server instead of the usual open system where such records would be normally kept. 

Leaked phone calls involving Mexico's new President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, seen left,  in 2017 were seen as extremely damaging

Leaked phone calls involving Mexico’s new President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, seen left,  in 2017 were seen as extremely damaging

The complaint alleged the handling of the Ukraine call was ‘not the first time’ that such steps had been taken ‘solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information.’  

On Friday, The White House said the record of the Trump-Zelensky call was added to the highly secure secret server at the direction of National Security Council lawyers.   

The complaint alleges White House officials were ‘directed’ to remove the electronic records from the computer system where such documents are normally stored ‘for coordination, finalization and distribution to Cabinet-level officials.’

The phone call with Ukraine was ‘loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.’ 

The White House has not explained why it puts certain heads of state calls into the secret server system, even if the content isn’t highly classified.

It is well known that presidents usually make their calls on one of several secure lines found in the White House Situation Room, the Oval Office or the presidential limo.

During the calls, a number of national security officials, including NSC and Situation Room staffers would be listening in. 

Trump is often handed notes from advisers to help him with the call and on what not to say

Trump is often handed notes from advisers to help him with the call and on what not to say

Trump’s ’embarrassing leaks’ 

Restrictions on who can access and listen to President Trump’s phone calls have been restricted since the first week of his presidency after details concerning phone calls to the leaders of Mexico and Australia were leaked to the press. 

 27 January, 2017 A phone call between Trump and Mexico’s Pena Nieto was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally after the two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall.

‘You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,’ Trump told Pena Nieto,’You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.’

‘You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with, and we are willing to help you with that big-league,’ he said.

Trump added: ‘Listen, I know how tough these guys are – our military will knock them out like you never thought of. We will work to help you knock them out because your country does not want that.’

28 January, 2017 During a call with Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister of Australia, Trump tried to wriggle out of an Obama-era deal to resettle refugees currently held on Manus Island and Nauru. 

‘This is going to kill me,’ he said to Turnbull. ‘I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country.’

He added: ‘This deal will make me look terrible.’

Under previous presidents, including Obama, after calls were concluded, records would then be distributed to relevant offices.

But under Trump, the White House system for dealing with the calls appears to have been in disarray according to the Journal.

During the first few months of the administration, far broader distribution lists were used leading to more people hearing and reading Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders. It ultimately resulted in more leaks.  

But after the leaks concerning Australia and Mexico, the National Security Council ‘severely cut back’ on the numbers of people receiving the records deciding to send them only to people directly involved in issues discussed in the call. 

Aside from the phone calls made by the president to world leaders that are known about, there is also concern over calls the president has had with foreign leaders on his own cellphone.

Aside from the phone calls made by the president to world leaders that are known about, there is also concern over calls the president has had with foreign leaders on his own cellphone.

When H.R. McMaster took over as Mr. Trump’s second national security adviser, the  distribution list became even smaller, with officials receiving the information contained in the calls on a need-to-know basis. Access to everyone else was blocked.  

Aside from the phone calls made by the president to world leaders that are known about, there is also concern over calls the president has had with foreign leaders on his own cellphone.

The president would regularly hand his personal cellphone number out to several world leaders, including the heads of Mexico, Canada and France, urging them to call him directly.

Such a move breaks diplomatic protocol raising worries about the security and secrecy of his communications, according to people with direct knowledge. 

It has been a steep learning curve for Trump who would all-too-readily share sensitive information with world leaders. 

On several occasions, John Kelly, a former White House’s chief of staff, would mute the line while Trump was on a phone call so he could tell him not to talk about certain subjects.

Other advisers would even pass the president notes while on a call, offering advice on what to say, or what not to mention.

A former senior administration official said although the president’s advisers tried the best they could to manage the president’s discussions with world leaders, ‘once he’s up in the residence, we never know who he’s speaking to.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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